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Prison price set, but payday for state not soon enough

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SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn and President Barack Obama's administration might have struck a deal on a price for the empty Thomson prison, but Illinois shouldn't expect a check anytime soon.

By Diane Lee

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn and President Barack Obama's administration might have struck a deal on a price for the empty Thomson prison, but Illinois shouldn't expect a check anytime soon.

The agreed upon price of $165 million for the Thomson Correctional Center in the northern corner of the state is less than its appraised value of $220 million, state lawmakers confirmed Wednesday.

However, Rich Carter, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-16th District, said the Illinois congressman has not heard anything about a sale.

"The federal government doesn't have any money," Carter said. "There may be an agreement, but there cannot be a sale without any money to buy the prison."

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said Illinois needs the money sooner, rather than later.

"Maybe we won't have to cut some kid's program, because right now we are in the process of cutting $2.4 billion out of our budget," Jacobs said. "… And maybe this will save a few programs that we won't have to cut out."

State Rep. Patrick Verschoore, D-Milan, said he was disappointed in the price, but "there is no sense in having something in that good of shape sitting there empty."

In 2001, former Gov. George Ryan built Thomson to ease state prison overcrowding. But the prison has sat empty for nearly a decade, because of state budget cuts and politics.

State Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, said the price is actually more than the cost to build the prison.

"Let's get it open. Let's put people to work," Sacia said. "Let's bring the financial economic impact to our community."

State Rep. Richard Morthland, R-Cordova, said the prison will provide thousands of new jobs to his district, which runs from just north of Thompson and Savanna to the middle of the Quad Cities.

Morthland said the governor reached the agreement almost two weeks ago, but the state will need approval from Congress to sell the prison to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Lawmakers were told to keep it under wraps until funding and an opening date were set.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is working with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reprogram federal funding to turn Thomson into a federal maximum security prison.

"He hopes this can be done as soon as possible so that the purchase can move forward and bring with it the jobs and economic development so important to the region's future," Durbin's spokeswoman Christina Mulka said in an email.

Thomson would not house terror suspects from the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, Mulka said. Prospects of bringing terrorists to the Land of Lincoln weren't received warmly by people living near the prison.

Grant Klinzman, the governor's press secretary, said Quinn is moving forward with the sale.

"We are continuing to work with the federal government regarding the sale of Thomson Correctional Center. We hope to complete the sale as soon as possible," Klinzman said in an email.

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